Tattoo Placement
January 14, 2004 1:04 AM   Subscribe

I want to get a tattoo, could anyone give me some good suggestions on where to put it? (more inside)

It's like this. I want to get a round ying yang type design on my back. This would be very small, about three inches in diameter or smaller, likely. I'm a relatively small female. I've been thinking about getting it on my back, as nothing else seems like a good place. However, I can't decide where on my back, or even if I want to put it there. If I do get it on my back, I was thinking of adding a larger design of a dragon later, so I've been trying to think of something that won't look weird contrasted to the dragon. Any suggestions?

Oh, and I know to do all the research about the tattooing parlor, and to seriously think about whether it's a good idea to get a tattoo. I've been thinking about this for probably a year, and probably won't actually get it for a couple more anyway.

Darn it. I hit post by accident and then tried to hit back, but it didn't work. Well, there's no more inside. Sorry.
posted by stoneegg21 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (21 answers total)
I don't really know much about tattoos, but here is what I would do, stoneegg21: I would have someone take a full-length (nude) photo of me from the back (so that the top of your head is just a bit under the top frame of the image, and your feet are just above the bottom frame), and then experiment in a graphics program, placing the image in various places (fade the yin-yang graphic out to make it look more natural). My own inclination would be to put it centered at the bottom part of the small of the back, either just above or just below where a bikini might begin, so that it's not going to be visually bisected. Also, if you are small, you might want to go with a slightly smaller image - say two inches rather than three. If you went with a larger dragon later, the bottom of the dragon's tail could perhaps curl around the yin-yang...
posted by taz at 1:42 AM on January 14, 2004

Wherever you decide, bear in mind that the tatooing process hurts more the closer it is to a bone. So a bicep or arse tatoo doesn't hurt cos it's very fleshy; close to the spine is likely to hurt a lot.

I've only got a tatoo on my bicep, for that reason (and the fact that I'm a big pink scaredy-cat).
posted by Pericles at 1:46 AM on January 14, 2004

Consider what areas might be exposed by various clothing styles you might wear, and that there may be times that you might not want it seen.

You may even go off 'having a tattoo' when you get older, and so might not want it seen at all : my father has two tattoos, one on each bicep which he got as a young man, and he considers them something of an embarassment now; as a result he always wears tops that cover them up and he 'can't' wear short-sleeved t-shirts.
posted by Blue Stone at 2:33 AM on January 14, 2004

In terms of deciding what design to go with, I remember reading somewhere (perhaps here even!), that you should get your fave design printed onto paper and then stick it in a drawer for a couple of years before you go ahead with it.

If it still looks like something you want permanently inked after two years, you've only missed out on two years out of your life having it. And if you're cringing at how powerfully uncool it is, you've saved yourself from walking around with the thing everyday until you drop dead.

Not a terribly 'rock' thing to say, but probably the kind of boring advice worth giving a thought to.

Having said that, if one of my friends got tanked and had 'Death Before Dishonour' inked in four inch high gothic calligraphy across their shoulder-blades, I'd think it was pretty cool.
posted by backOfYourMind at 4:40 AM on January 14, 2004

After about 5 years of deliberation, I settled on a tattoo - it's on my upper back, starting from about 1 1/2 inches below my neck (just below the collar of most of my shirts.) I like this location a lot, because it's visible when I wear less clothing - tank tops, camisoles, and what not. And in these casual situations, it's appropriate. When I wear business attire, however, it's not visible. It hurt A LOT in this location. VERY MUCH. Imagine the worst sunburn of your life, dip a kitten's claws in acid, and let them scratch away. All the news I heard about filling in not even hurting after the outline was done? Not true for me. My artist warned me that was a "brave" choice of location for a first tattoo.

That being said, the only other question I would ask you about location - is there someone in your life who can be a nursemaid for the healing process? Washing, applying the ointments your artist recommends, etc., twice or more daily? Because without my husband, I wouldn't have been able to give the tattoo the attention it needed simply because I can't reach that area that well. Unless you have a patient roommate or significant other, make sure you can reach your tattoo easily.
posted by ferociouskitty at 4:58 AM on January 14, 2004

I love my tattoos and I'm planning on getting more as soon as time and finances allow. I agree with thinking about the design, for a long time and that fleshier parts will hurt less. I would never get a tattoo that could not be covered with regular business attire.

Talk to the artist about your future plans, and how to fit things together. In my experience, they are so glad to work with someone who is actually putting some thought into the design (instead of picking something from the wall) they will really take the time to make sure you get what you want.
posted by JoanArkham at 6:09 AM on January 14, 2004

Sounds like it would suit your shoulder (where it can be flaunted with spagettistrap or halter tops when you feel like it) or lower back (again, a flaunt-when-you-feel-like it spot). Tat's hurt on bone, less so on flesh, a lot around nerve centers (which is why the belly and lower back are painful). It's gonna hurt anyway, so think less about that and more about where you would like it. Taz and Backofyourmind have very good points - a year is a short time of considering a tat. My first, I waited seven years.
posted by dabitch at 6:18 AM on January 14, 2004

I have a tattoo more or less in the same place as ferociouskitty, and my experience was totally different. Being the biggest wimp I know I expected to cry, faint and generally embarrass myself when having it done, but the whole thing really just pinched/scratched a bit even though it's right across my spine. But, "the whole thing" is about 3 cm by 1 cm and only letters, and I imagine something larger or with more solid colour would be far more unpleasant.

I absolutely love the location and was lucky enough (good advice about the nursemaid, ferociouskitty! i wasn't this clever) to just reach it with my fingertips - any lower and I wouldn't have been able to care for it myself.
posted by hannala at 6:28 AM on January 14, 2004

Think a bit abut what the tattoo means to you, and see if that doesn't suggest some potential locations. I went through this exercise with your suggested design (and future plans) in mind, and two or three locations immediately suggested themselves -- only one of which was mentioned above -- as both meaningful and potentially attractive placements. Your own personal symbology and history will perhaps lead you in directions other than mine, so I won't mention them here other than to point out the symmetry of the symbol you're talking about, but I think you should spend some time contemplating it in this light as well as looking at the various suggestipns above.
posted by majick at 6:48 AM on January 14, 2004

i have a tattoo about that size in the small of my back and while it was painful it wasn't unbearable.

uh, that's all i got. i love my tattoo (it is a small star) and am considering getting two small stars on either side, in a line.

i've had it for um... five years? (jesus i suddenly feel old) and i haven't regretted it once.
posted by sugarfish at 8:33 AM on January 14, 2004

Some very good advice here. I'd like to reiterate that you really think about the design you want - a waiting period is a great idea. I don't want to discourage you from the yin/yang, but just wanted to point out that it's a very common design and you might not want it anymore after you see a bunch of other people with it. On the other hand, if a yin/yang is you and always will be, go for it.

I'm a strong proponent for putting tattoos where they can't be seen in a professional setting. If you are young, you may not know exactly where your career will take you, and it's worth not handicapping yourself over. One of my co-workers has been doing laser treatments to get rid of her tattoo on her shoulder (which is visible when she wears sleeveless tops) and it's painful and costs a small fortune.

Personally, I really like the placement of mine - it's about 2"x3" on the right side of my lower back, just on the top part of the buttock. It is out of sight even when I wear a bikini, so the only people who have seen it are the ones I've invited to see it. That works for me; you may want it to be more 'public'.

It did hurt more closer to the spine, but it certainly wasn't unbearable. I also recommend getting it in a place you can reach yourself, not just for care, but sometimes the tattoo itches as it heals and it's great to be able to gently scratch.
posted by widdershins at 8:52 AM on January 14, 2004

I have two tattoos, both of grapevines. One runs the width of my lower back and one is v-shaped on my upper back. It took me a couple of years to pick the design, and still longer to choose the artist. It was a tribal thing for me, marking the transition from one time in my life to another. I'm glad I had a big piece done as my first design.

Take LOTS of time to decide, and a few pain-relievers before you get the work done (Do NOT drink alcohol, btw; it dehydrates you and supposedly makes it hurt more. Additionally, most tattoo artists will not work on you if you appear intoxicated.)

My lower back took almost five hours, and I found that the most painful areas were near the "love handles." Basically, anywhere that is ticklish is excruciating. Bone is nothing compared to love handles. I love the location, though, because gravity doesn't tend to affect one's back much.

The artist I chose had a book that I looked through of high-quality designs that I admired. I trusted her, and she free-handed a custom design for me based on my ideas and a few examples. (For those in Chicago, I used Hannah at Hi-Performance Ink. My back used to be on her website at her old place.)
posted by answergrape at 9:14 AM on January 14, 2004

1. Imagine your parents with a tattoo. You will be in your 40's sooner than you think.

2. Tattoo removal costs a hella lot more than getting a tattoo. Think before you ink.
posted by y2karl at 9:23 AM on January 14, 2004

I think it's really cool that you're taking your time and putting so much thought into this, stoneegg. I've toyed with the idea a few times, but I just know I'd hate whatever I got a few months after I got it (which would be a just a little too convenient for my stroppy mind to torture itself).

Maybe you should get it high on an ass cheek, close to your back? Not only does this sound attractive, it would also be less painful (as Pericles pointed out), but you could always extend the dragon up or down or anywhere later. Just my 2-pence.

Me, I would need something with very deep and specific significance for myself, and all I'm attracted to so far is Michelangelo's Green Man with some ivy wrapping around behind it (I have a deep connection with animals and nature.)

That said, some of the coolest tatts I've seen are on the waaay-fun rockabilly band Tenderloin; a couple of Tenderloin's members have big googly Tweety Bird eyes tattooed on their deltoids (the muscle group at the top of the arm/shoulder, which is round like a face.) Cool!
posted by Shane at 9:36 AM on January 14, 2004

The ying yang circle is a bit more than I described, it has a philosophical meaning to me. Instead of the dots, there'll be an infinity sign and a capital omega sign. I still haven't drawn it up, so it'll be quite a while. So everyone doesn't need to worry that this'll be done on the spur of the moment and drunk.

My positioning is something I highly want to be able to hide. I may end up with a position in academics or a professional field, so I want this to be pretty private. Although I don't know of any field where they're likely to have to see me in a bathing suit, so I'm not worried about that.
posted by stoneegg21 at 9:40 AM on January 14, 2004

My suggestions would be 1) never get a band tattoo 2) if you don't think you can accept something as part of you once you have it, don't do it 3) They don't hurt as much as you think, except on the kneecaps.

FYI: I actually have a tattoo on the bottom of my forearm, just a bit back from my wrist, and it is the most visible/least noticed of all my tattoos.
posted by drezdn at 9:54 AM on January 14, 2004

I have a tattoo on the left side of my upper back near the shoulder; it's about 4 or 5 inches in diameter. It's easily hid under any shirt I wear, and even most tanktops with thick shoulders. Nobody has ever seen it unless they were invited to.

Also, it has a lot of filled-in areas and that location didn't hurt much at all. It was slightly painful at times, but warranted nothing more than squeezing the arm of the chair I was sitting in.
posted by tomorama at 12:36 PM on January 14, 2004

The fact that you've thought about this awhile means that you're definitely on the right track. Whether or not you're gonna bring in your own design, make sure that the shop you go to does nice custom work and not just flash. Where I get my work done they don't even do flash.

widdershins: you really don't want to scratch, even gently. Scratching can lead to scarring and removal of ink.
posted by trillion at 1:11 PM on January 14, 2004

I have have a custom medium sized ying yang symbol tattoo on the lower back (it hurt like hell when he worked on the bony areas). The work was done at a Venice Beach (California) tattoo parlor, by the artist that did the rose/barbed wire ankle tattoo on Christina Applegate (Married With Children). He also did an awesome custom rose tattoo on my husband's forearm and an flaming eight-ball on his shoulder.

Check out alot of artists before you decide who to do the work. All the artists we went had a binder with photos of their custom work. I intend to go here for next tattoo.
posted by lola at 2:57 PM on January 14, 2004

I have one in exactly the same spot as widdershins. I'm part Korean and I got it for my 20th birthday, so it's the Korean word for "rite of passage." (And yes, I checked it in the dictionary so I wouldn't end up with "baby fish mouth" mistakenly tattooed on my ass for all eternity.) My jeans mostly cover it up and people only see it if I show it to them. I like that; it makes it seem more like a secret talisman. I didn't find that location particularly painful. The outlining was definitely worse than the filling-in part.

I had originally planned to have it on the front of my hip but my tattoo artist helpfully pointed out that for females, if you think there's any possibility you might want to have kids someday, you shouldn't get a tattoo anywhere that's going to *stretch*. So keep that in mind.

My sister actually has a yin-ying and dragon in the center of her back, and last year she had a lily put on her shoulder. She had a problem recently though when her best friend got married and asked her to be a bridesmaid. The dresses were all backless and there was some consternation on the part of the mother of the bride that visible tats would look cheap and tacky. Amy ended up having to get a long matching scarf and wear it around her neck so it trailed down the back and covered them. It wasn't a huge deal but she was embarrassed at being singled out. I'm sure she would've still gotten them even if she had predicted that, but formal occasions might be a consideration...
posted by web-goddess at 3:59 PM on January 14, 2004

From what you describe (yin/yang and dragon) looks-wise I'd say the yin/yang at the top of your back/bottom of your neck and the dragon across the small of your back. My opinion on secondary placement is on the outside of each ankle/lower calf. Can't tell you how it might feel as everyone has different pain tolerances.

My own tattoos (three) are on the inside of one ankle and on the outside of the other. Outside of the ankle hurt quite a bit more than the inside.
posted by deborah at 1:14 PM on January 15, 2004

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